So here I was at the gym, getting ready for an annual costume ball held at a real castle in Newport, Rhode Island. I know that doesn’t sound quite right, but you see, I was going as The Incredible Hulk. Since the latest Hulk movie had been a blockbuster this past summer, I doubted I would be the only angry green mutant stomping around and growling at this particular party. I would, however, probably be the only one painting my actual body instead of donning a suit with fake padded muscles. That also meant I did not have the advantage of a nice fake six-pack, but would instead have to try and have a real one of my own. I wanted to make sure people knew I was supposed to be the Hulk, not a green blob. And I didn’t want to hear any cracks about how I must be getting a lower dose of gamma radiation lately. My wife Janet was going as a buffed and sexy Wonder Woman. She had just won a bodybuilding contest and placed second at another to her best friend, so she was already in peak condition. I, on the other hand, hadn’t been in contest condition in almost a year and a half and was struggling to drop some fat. I had replaced my usual protein shakes and a half-cup of mixed nuts with Parrillo Protein Chew bars, which were lower in calories. Well, I suppose that all depends on how many you eat. The damn things were so addicting that I often found myself reaching for a second one before I was even finished masticating (that’s chewing) the first one. Hopefully I could handle this problem on my own and wouldn’t have to go to Protein Chew Bar Rehab.
Getting my cardio in had been a struggle lately due to various work and family demands, namely driving my kids to things like CCD, karate, field hockey, student council meetings, and friend’s houses. I felt grateful now to be doing a solid 45 minutes on the Nautilus Treadmaster, because at the rate I was going I might have to paint some abs on. My young client Jared approached, a couple pieces of paper in hand. He seemed unusually agitated. Rather than get in front of me and have to stare up, as the cardio machines were up on a platform, he went around and got on the one to my left, which was out of order. On average, two or three of the six of these particular machines my gym has are not operational at any given moment. Before I even had my headphones off, Jared thrust the papers at me to peruse.
They were two printouts from a popular bodybuilding message board I often posted on. One had a few pictures of a young guy posing in what looked like a gym locker room. The kid looked pretty good and had some solid muscle on him, though he could stand to lose some chub and he had that annoying “Faux Hawk” hairdo that so many young guys these days sport. The other page was a series of posts that seemed to be a discussion between the guy, who called himself ‘Hunter92’ and the rest of the board. Jared had highlighted a few lines where Hunter92 talked about his plan to compete next summer in the same natural bodybuilding show I had won last year. Jared and his father Jeff were both contemplating doing that very contest next summer as well.
“Why are you showing me this?” I asked.
“This kid. . .” he stabbed the paper with his finger for emphasis, “plays for Canton High. He’s a defensive end. And now he’s doing my show!” I knew Canton High was one of our town’s football rivals, though they consistently beat us in the playoffs.
“Your show? Do you think no one else is allowed to compete or something?”
“No,” he stammered, “but I can’t stand this kid! Hunter – what a stupid name.”
“Easy there Junior, you’re named after that dork from the Subway commercials.” Jared scowled at that.
“Whatever, I’m gonna kick his ass all over that stage. I’m gonna make him wish he never decided to compete!” He was practically foaming at the mouth now.
“Do you even know this kid? Have you ever met him?” Jared shifted his weight and looked away.
“Well no, not really – but I don’t care. This numbnuts thinks he’s gonna beat me? I’ll show him what’s up. I want you to show me no mercy in here once the season’s over after Thanksgiving. I have to get so huge that I make this kid look like a peanut!”
“Slow down and take a breath before you pass out, for God’s sake. Even when you compete, bodybuilding isn’t about beating the other guy.” Jared looked at me as if I were smoking something funny.
“Yeah it is,” he insisted.
“No, that’s how I used to look at it for years and years. But eventually I came to realize that it’s really about challenging yourself to be the best you can be, to beat your own previous best. You have to look at it that way, because you never know who else is going to show up and what they will look like, and you have no control over that anyway. The only thing you can really control is your own training, diet, and cardio, and putting as much effort and dedication into those is what ultimately makes you a winner, regardless of how you place.”
He looked to be turning that around in his brain, so I gave him a minute before moving on to my next point. “You can’t go around hating other bodybuilders and considering them enemies either, even if they will be trying to win the same contest that you are.”
“Yeah, but in football the coach always tells us –“
“This isn’t football,” I interjected. “I understand how you need to look at your game as a war and the other team as your enemy, but bodybuilding is very different from a team sport. There aren’t many of us that are willing to put in so much time and effort and sacrifice to craft our physiques into something extraordinary. Most people think we’re crazy, narcissistic, stupid, or obsessed. That means we have to stick together and help each other out. Whether you like it or not, all bodybuilders are really brothers and sisters in iron. Nobody else understands our passion and why we do what we do. They simply can’t. So I think you should get to know this Hunter kid.”
“What?” Jared’s eyes bulged and he took the papers back from me. “No way. That’s not gonna happen.”
“That’s too bad,” I said. “He lives just the next town over. I bet he would make a hell of a training partner for you. And it would be a lot more fun getting ready for the show with a friend your own age that’s never competed before either.”
“You better not train him,” Jared muttered, with genuine concern.
“Relax, I’m all set with the training thing. I don’t have the patience for more than one of you little walking hormones anyway. I’m just saying, it would be cool for you to have a friend that was into all this just like you are. You’ve complained to me a few times how none of your friends have any interest whatsoever in bodybuilding.”
“I guess,” he conceded.
“Over the years I found that more and more of my friends were fellow bodybuilders, and it’s great. I always have someone to talk to that actually knows and gives a rat’s ass about training, nutrition, and the sport itself.” Jared mulled this over.
“Well, maybe after the season is over I might hit him up with an email or something.”
“That’s the spirit. Now go get changed and we’ll start over at the squat rack.”
I picked up the pace as my cardio session drew to a close. Janet would definitely be Wonder Woman, but I had to get my butt in gear if I wanted to be The Incredible Hulk instead of The Mediocre Hulk. I thought back to all the times I used to have a hostile attitude toward other bodybuilders when I should have reached out to those few people who actually had so much in common with me. But I couldn’t go back in time and change that. All I could do now was to try and help Jared avoid making the same mistakes. But then again, that’s what I do, isn’t it?